January 22, 2018

Where there’s smoke: a brief history of John Swallow in headlines

John Swallow has a habit of making newspaper headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. If it’s true that where there is smoke there’s usually fire, then the headlines that have followed Swallow’s career indicate a lot of fire. Only time will tell how much or if it will catch up to Swallow this time around.

With calls for his resignation already circulating—the Daily Herald in Utah County called for Swallow to step down on Sunday and the Salt Lake Tribune and the St. George Spectrum followed—maybe it’s time to talk a walk down memory lane and recall that this isn’t his first time running afoul of the appearance of ethical behavior.


Elected to serve in the state legislature for the first time in 1995, Swallow served three terms in the state legislature before stepping down in 2002 to run for Congress. Over the next two election cycles, Swallow challenged Jim Matheson to represent Utah’s Second Congressional District, falling short each time. It was during this time that Swallow was hit by accusations of questionable ethics.

With the election fast approaching and the Swallow campaign hoping to look good for national Republicans, Swallow found his campaign short on cash.

“That wouldn’t look good,” said Dave Hansen, former campaign manager for Orrin Hatch, was at the time working as Swallow’s campaign manager. “So John said he could loan the campaign $90,000, which would look good on the report’s cash-on-hand, and when the October campaign contributions started coming in, the campaign would repay that. And that’s exactly what we did. That money was never meant for the campaign and actually wasn’t spent on the campaign. To be honest, it was just to make the report look good.”

It’s not atypical for candidates to do this kind of thing, but the question that was left outstanding was: Where did Swallow get the money? While Rob Bishop borrowed money from a credit union during the same cycle to keep the campaign moving, Swallow allegedly sold artwork that he never reported owning in previous financial reports.

“It was all within my immediate family,” said Swallow. “And all legal and above board.”

With the source questionable, and the amount much higher than what Swallow had reported as his own personal assets just six months before, the headline in the Deseret News was glaring: SWALLOW DENIES ETHICS BREACHES. Swallow was later cleared of breaking the law when he admitted selling some paintings, cashing out checking and savings accounts, including an individual retirement account, to make the loans to his campaign.

With just a little bit of political sleight of hand, Swallow leveraged his assets to hide the state of his campaign until after the election.

Tricky, but, at least according to the FEC, legal.



During the run up to the Republican primary in 2012, Swallow painted himself at the forefront of the Obama Care lawsuit…or at least, his mailers did. In reality, the most Swallow did for the case was listen in on a few conference calls and attend oral arguments in a seat that he probably paid someone to stand in line for. Then, he took a taxpayer funded trip to DC to watch other lawyers argue the case and called home to his state to campaign on their coattails.

[…]Swallow was there…along with four hundred others, including attorneys from twenty-six states who were also on the lawsuit and observing the oral arguments that day.  Other than that, I could not find anything to indicate a more active role in the case. Other lawyers argued, other lawyers filed the briefs, and other lawyers responded to the judges questions.

Other than that, the most prominent mention that Swallow received was for a campaign call he made to 55,000 Utahns during his taxpayer funded trip to D.C. And Swallow did not appear happy about that mention.

“I have a right when I’m not working to do whatever I want to do,” Swallow said. “I have a right to campaign. I have a right to decide if I want to make something an official call or something to promote my candidacy.”  Truly the words of someone intensely focused on fighting Obamacare.



Meanwhile, news surfaced that Swallow had been interviewed by the FBI in connection with a bid scandal helped start in Salt Lake County.  According to the article:

The flier, coming two weeks before Swallow’s June 26 GOP primary against attorney Sean Reyes, raises the issue of a contract dispute involving Salt Lake County and California-based Worldwide Environmental Products, which sought to provide emissions-testing equipment to garages in the county.

Awarding the three-year, $12 million contract turned into a bitter fight. Worldwide alleged the bid was rigged, and the attorney general’s office and, eventually, the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office became involved, according to interviews and records obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.


The target of the investigation is unclear. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office would not comment.

Swallow denied that he was under investigation with a veritable tornado of robodials, mailers, and emails. But he was one of only three people interviewed or subpoenaed by the FBI in the matter. No one in Salt Lake County was interviewed in the investigation, which I find a little odd, since it was Salt Lake County’s bid process that was supposedly under investigation.

At the time I noted that “if the FBI had investigated Swallow for corruption, it would be a game changer. Who wants an Attorney General who is corrupt?”

To top it off, then Attorney General Mark Shurtleff went to bat for Swallow, accusing Swallow’s Republican opponent of illegally issuing the mailer. The next day, Shurtleff walked the accusation back when he realized that his accusation were likely defamatory and false.

But it was too late, the robodial had gone out, smearing Swallow’s opponent with outlandish exaggerations that didn’t stand on fact or law.

Meanwhile, I could not find anyone who actually saw the mailer. I was left to wonder if it had actually been issued to more than a few households, as well as who the real source of the mailer had been. It provided an excuse to attack Swallow’s opponent, but wasn’t really seen by many voters.


“AG Candidate Talks Of Taking Over Consumer Protection”

Then the City Weekly found evidence that Swallow was promising a quid pro quo for campaign donations.  In light of the allegations coming to light in recent weeks and a federal suit against many of Swallow’s donors filed this week, the City Weekly discovery is even more revealing, even if it didn’t stick to Swallow at the time. It sounded like a promise of quid pro quo.  You support my campaign, and I’ll protect you from enforcement.

[A]ccording to a tape-recorded conversation he had with the owner of a telemarketing sales floor, [John Swallow] has another plan he’s been less vocal about—taking the agency that investigates consumer protection complaints away from the jurisdiction of the Governor’s Office and putting it under the control of the Attorney General’s Office.

“Now, this is kind of confidential, but when I’m the attorney general, I will try to restructure it so Consumer Protection is under the AG [office] and the attorney general has more authority over those investigations. In fact—complete authority over that,” Swallow is heard telling telemarketing-business owner Aaron Christner in an April 7 phone conversation.

Keep in mind that Swallow was making this statement to a member of an industry that has collectively donated $82,284 to his campaign. At least, that’s as much as was apparent then.


“Indicted businessman: Utah A.G. tied to alleged scheme”

And then there was this one, just last week.  With the family bible still warm where he placed his hand to be sworn in as attorney general of Utah, Swallow was in headlines again, this time for allegations that he participated in a scheme to help a Utah businessman avoid investigation by the feds by bribing Senator Harry Reid.

Embattled St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson says new Utah Attorney General John Swallow helped broker a deal in 2010 in which Johnson believed he was to pay Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid $600,000 to make a federal investigation into Johnson’s company go away.

But when the federal government filed a lawsuit Johnson thought he had paid to quash, he demanded Swallow return some of the $250,000 initial payment. Then, just days before the Nov. 6 election, Johnson engaged in a frenetic but unsuccessful effort to get Swallow to drop out of the race, saying information about what Johnson called a “bribe” would come out and force the Republican’s resignation if he became attorney general.

The Salt Lake Tribune has an excellent article that provides a timeline of the scandal. As I mentioned earlier, the Daily Herald has called for Swallow’s resignation.

The allegations against Swallow have sufficient legs, even now before every detail has been uncovered, to justify his immediate resignation. His reputation is now seriously tainted, and that is an impossible thing to overcome for an attorney general.

Emails and secret recordings put Swallow in the thick of a possible bribery conspiracy. While Swallow denies doing anything technically illegal (which may or may not be true), it is clear that there is a substantial appearance of wrongdoing. That appearance alone is sufficient to cause any gentleman or statesman, let alone a state’s chief law enforcement officer, to step down for the good of the people.

From long, sad experience, we know that initial reports of this nature virtually always reveal the tip of an iceberg. Public officials caught in shady dealings always deny and deny and deny. And then with each successive public revelation they tend to get squeezed out of office.

Please spare us the pain, Mr. Swallow, and get out now. You can’t be trusted.

I tend to agree, though this is no surprise to people who have read this blog before. I do not trust John Swallow, and he has a history of walking the fine line, if not over that line, between what is ethical and what is not.

Is there more to come out? Almost certainly so. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire, and Swallow’s career—more focused on raising money by promising protection than on actually practicing law—has been shrouded by a lot of smoke. Who knows who else will be hit as the plot thickens around the Attorney General.

Until the smoke clears, though, it’ll be hard to see how bad the fire is and how much damage it has done to Utah and the reputation of the Attorney General’s office.

About Daniel Burton

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. You can follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas. He is active on social media, Republican politics, and has been named to PoliticIt’s list of the “Top-50 Utah Political Opinion Leaders” on Twitter. You can reach him directly at dan.burton@gmail.com

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